These days, North Carolina isn’t exactly the holy land of civil liberties. It won’t let you go to the bathroom that fits your gender identity without fear of punishment. It’ll tackle and arrest you for speaking up at university board meetings. Why, then, would it suddenly be concerned about protecting freedom of speech?
That’s what Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest’s “Campus Free Expression Act” is supposed to do. Under the act, Forest says that he wants to make the University of North Carolina system “a place where there is free trade in the marketplace of ideas”—that is, where “all students, faculty, and others in the University community have the freedom to express opinions on the issues of the day.” His motivations seem more complicated, however. If the act moves forward, universities won’t be able to take action on issues brought up by students, such as divestment measures, out of concern for the “suppression of other viewpoints.” In addition, students could face expulsion for disrupting public events—putting the plug on ongoing protests at Board of Governors meetings against the corporate takeover of the UNC system, the dismantling of the state’s historically black colleges and universities, and the appointment of Margaret Spellings, George W. Bush’s secretary of education, as UNC president.
Forest’s double-talk can be seen, in fact, as the end of “free expression” as students know it. Theoretically, as long as schools are meant to serve them, those in charge should be interested in listening to what students have to say. At UNC—or up the road at Duke, where administrators have threatened students for demanding racial justice—this isn’t necessarily the most convenient way of doing business. The alternative? Preventing conflict in the first place.
At What Point Do Black Lives Stop Mattering to Administrators?
By Kevin Ferreira and Chad Olle, Boston College
In March 2015, Eradicate #BostonCollegeRacism emerged from the heartbreak and anger surrounding highly visible murders of black men and women by law enforcement. Week after week, violent images of disregard for black bodies pervaded the media—yet leadership at a university with a public mission to be “one for others” was silent. When students tried to speak out by staging a “die-in,” BC chose to discipline us.